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War and Peace

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Leo Tolstoy's novel, War and Peace, contains three kinds of material, a historical account of the Napoleonic wars, the biographies of fictional characters, and a set of essays about the philosophy of history. Critics from the 1860s to the present have wondered how these three parts cohere, and many have faulted Tolstoy for including the lengthy essays, but readers continue to respond to them with undiminished enthusiasm. The work's historical portions narrate the campaign of 1805 leading to Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, a period of peace, and Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. Contrary to generally accepted views, Tolstoy portrays Napoleon as an ineffective, egomaniacal buffoon who believes human beings are meager pons whose purpose is either to live or die on his behalf. As vividly displayed in chapter six when forty horses and men drowned crossing the turbid Niemen River. Tsar Alexander I is depicted as a phrasemaker obsessed with how historians will describe him, producing grandiose and flamboyant speeches. Pushkin continues, presenting the Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov (previously disparaged) as a patient old man whom understands the limitations of human will and planning. Kutuzov is aware that his power lies in his participation as a passive instrument among forces beyond his control. Particularly noteworthy are the novel's battle scenes, which show combat as sheer chaos. Generals may imagine they can "anticipate all contingencies," but battle is really the result of "a hundred million diverse chances" decided on the moment by unforeseeable circumstances. Leo Tolstoy does not tell the reader what they want to hear but presents his observation of opposing forces such as war and peace, life and death and Napoleon and Kutuzov. In war as in life, no system or model can come close to accounting for the infinite complexity of human behavior



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